The Return of Deterrence to Washington

The Obama Administration must prevent an Israeli attack on Iran, Lebanon or Syria if the President wants to create a lasting peace in the Middle East

I have talked a lot about the possibility of war between Israel and Lebanon and have concluded that such an outcome is unlikely and war would only arrive if Netanyahu or Nasrallah made a major strategic error.  If Hezbollah is viewed as the aggressor in such a conflict, it will lose some serious credibility in Lebanon; Israel would need to resort to another Gaza-style demolition if it wants to avoid another ‘loss’ in Lebanon, presumably resulting in another Goldstone Report and another smear on Israel’s moral credibility.  But one has to wonder how much Israel wants to avoid war.  The recent assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhoud – the Hamas leader – in Dubai has Israeli commentators trying to link a Hamas retaliation with Hezbollah action.  Hezbollah has been promising retaliation for the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh two years ago, but have yet to act.  While US President Obama struggles with creating peace in the region, it is paramount that he prevent anymore military aggression by Israel.  Despite recent hostilities by the Jewish state, another war in the Middle East would mean peace during the Obama Administration would be impossible.

Is Israel forcing Hezbollah’s hand?  Recently Israel abducted a Lebanese shepherd from Lebanese land in another act of belligerence that could move Hezbollah closer to action.  Rabih Muhammad Zahra, an 18-year-old Lebanese shepherd was abducted by Israeli forces from Lebanese land on the 31st of January and reportedly beaten and interrogated about Hezbollah activities.  The incident occurred close to the border area of disputed Shebaa Farms, but in an area that UNIFIL determined to be Lebanese.  The Lebanese foreign ministry released a statement calling the abduction a “clear violation” of UN resolution 1701 – the resolution that ended the 2006 war and reestablished Lebanese sovereignty; the foreign ministry has also logged several complaints to the UN.  Although Zahra was returned to UNIFIL quickly, investigations into the incident show clear aggression by Israeli soldiers.

[tweetmeme] Meanwhile, Israel has reiterated its intention to hold all of Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah’s actions.  Considering that many in Lebanon see Hezbollah as the protector of Lebanese sovereignty, will the group respond?  Israel returned the shepherd immediately after being pressured by the UN, but the circumstances are eerily similar to those that led to the violence of 2006 (Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers in Israel, leading to a failed search and rescue and, finally, war).  If Hezbollah does retaliate, it would be easy for both sides to claim innocence if another war broke out: Hezbollah was protecting the sovereignty of Lebanon and Israel was simply reacting to Hezbollah hostility.

To add to the drama and the pressure of the situation, Israel has also warned that war with Lebanon would mean war with Syria.  Indeed, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that if peace with Syria cannot be forged, an all-out war in the Middle East is possible.  A peace with Syria would most likely preclude Syrian aid to Hezbollah during a possible future war with the Israeli state, eliminating one source of weaponry from the Party of God.

With saber-rattling directed at Lebanon, Syria, Iran and, of course, Palestine, one has to wonder how likely a new war is for Israel.  With US President Obama trying to reestablish peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, a new round of violence would be devastating on several levels.  Obama’s nomination of a new ambassador to Syria might be a shift in policy by the US in order to try to deter an increasingly aggressive Israel.  Jeb Koogler writes that the new ambassador to Syria will be trying to lay the groundwork for direct talks between Damascus and Tel Aviv.  Such an assignment for the new ambassador demonstrates two goals: firstly, and most obviously, to increase the peaceful ties of the region; and secondly, to deter Israel from aggressing against Lebanon or Syria.  The US effort to deter Israel expands to the Arabian Gulf as well.  The US has increased its presence in the Gulf recently, presumably to send a message to Iran.  However, such an increase also will calm Israeli calls for a strike against Iran.

After Obama proved he was unable to pressure Israel into making moves towards peace with the Palestinians, his recent decisions in the Middle East, at least secondary motives, aim to pacify an aggressive Israeli administration.  Jeffrey Goldberg notes that the Obama Administration must prevent an Israeli strike on Iran if there is to be a lasting peace in the region.  This hypothesis can easily be expanded to include Lebanon as well.  If the Obama Administration is serious about peace, it must prevent an Israeli attack on Lebanon.  Considering the recent abduction of the Lebanese shepherd, Obama must work immediately to pacify the fragile Lebanese-Israeli border.  If hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah intensify, Obama can kiss goodbye any hope of a peace agreement during his tenure as President.

Photo from Follow the Money

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